A Baker's Dozen in Every Town
by Kate Heyhoe
Tupperware parties are so last week—to be truly au courant, put together a group of like-minded baking aficionados and form your own "baker's dozen."
Imagine "hanging out" with the leading bakers of the food world, sharing tips and techniques with them and tasting their creations. Over a decade ago, professional baking colleagues in the Bay Area started meeting casually to discuss the nuances of baking. Forty bakers attended the first meeting, including Marion Cunningham, co-founder of what has now become a nonprofit collective numbering more than 400 members, known as The Baker's Dozen.
Recently, the group published an outstanding guide to baking and their personal trade secrets in The Baker's Dozen Cookbook. If you're interested in forming your own Baker's Dozen, follow the guide below, as written by The Baker's Dozen themselves. In fact, it's just as inspiring for those whose passion may not be baking, but for cooking in general, perhaps to create your own "Kitchen Cabinet" of cooks.
Starting Your Own Baker's Dozen
A "baker's dozen" refers to 12 items with one more tossed in as a gift, but by no means do you need thirteen people to start your own group. The Baker's Dozen featured in The Baker's Dozen Cookbook started with 40 bakers at the first meeting, but has grown to more than 400 members. The more people in the group, the more you will learn from each other's successes and failures.
Ask your friends who like to bake if they know anyone else who likes to bake or wants to learn more about baking.
Once you have your group, pick a day and time to meet. You can meet as often as once a month or less frequently. You and your fellow group members should take turns hosting meetings at your homes. Put out some plates, forks, and a fresh pot of coffee and you're ready to start. Make sure you have ample table space for everyone's contributions.
Choosing a Recipe or a Topic
Start with a simple recipe. Have everyone bake brownies using their own recipes, or members can all prepare the same recipe, like, Flo's Angel Food Cake. This low-fat classic is perfect for your first meeting. It will be fascinating to see how different bakers following the same recipe can yield such different results. At our first angel food cake event, it was impossible to find two cakes that were alike in looks and texture.
What to Discuss
Okay, now that the brownies, apple pies, or angel food cakes have been baked, it's time to compare them and taste a bite of each. Bring a notebook along because you'll definitely want to write things down, so you'll know what to pay attention to the next time you prepare that same recipe.
Don't limit yourselves just to recipes. Perhaps your group is interested in how different brands of chocolate taste in the same brownie recipe. Meetings can be used to compare different ingredients (flour or vanilla), or search for the best cheesecake or muffin recipe. Discuss issues or problems specific to your region or situation, such as high-altitude baking or making meringues in humid weather.
Questions for Discussion
If your group selected the angel food cake, here are some questions to discuss. These questions can be modified for any topic or recipe.
* How did each cake look? Most likely, some will be tall, others short to middling. Colors may range from as golden as hay to as dark as café au lait, with every hue in between.
* Were the egg whites beaten in three stages as described in the recipe?
* What different brands of flour were used?
* Were all the cakes baked on the same rack position in the oven?
* Did anyone use a nonstick tube pan?
* Do gas versus electric ovens make a difference?
* Was there a specific step that raised questions or created problems?
* Did one person's interpretation of a particular step yield better results than another's?
Avoid turning the meeting into a contest. This is an opportunity to compare and learn, and for you and your friends to become better bakers. Some people like a brown edge on an angel food cake, others don't. Some people prefer the taste of an all-butter pie crust, others like an all-shortening crust. Comparing different tastes and aesthetic preferences is part of the fun.
Getting together to compare tips, techniques, and tastes is always fun, but every once in while, you and your group might want to take a field trip. Some of the places The Baker's Dozen visited included a yeast company, a sugar refinery, and a chocolate factory. Many such places offer guided tours and most are more than willing to share information about their products. Look for dairies, as well as flour, spice, or sugar companies. Ask to visit professional bakeries or vocational cooking schools. You might get an impromptu cooking lesson!
From The Baker's Dozen Cookbook by The Baker's Dozen Inc., a California not-for-profit corporation. � 2001. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. For more information on Baker's Dozen, visit the Baker's Dozen website.
Morrow Cookbooks/HarperCollins Publishers
Hardcover; 368 pages
$40.00; $59.95 (CAN)
Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created April 2002